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Category Archives: Writing

Chuck Wendig’s latest writing challenge asked for us to share a real-life spooky experience. I decided to write a bit about something that happened about this time last year.

I’ve written a lot about doors. Secret passages, locked doors that contain various secrets, portals to other places… It’s definitely a recurring theme in my work. So imagine my surprise at finding something that wouldn’t be out of place in my work showing up in my apartment.

My girlfriend and I were moving in together for the first time, and we’d finally found an affordable place with enough space in the right neighborhood. We leased the apartment without looking at it, so we didn’t notice it when we first moved in. Not even when we were doing our walkthrough with the checklist the office had given us. Looking for chipped paint, broken blinds, etc. Maybe it was just the shift in lighting after we got the bedside lamp set up. Eventually, though, we spotted a small seam in the wall. There it was. A vertical line, a slight indentation too deep to just be in the paint.

“That’s weird.”

“Oh, damn. Yeah, it is. It’s like they patched the wall over here, and didn’t care that you’d be able to see a gap in the drywall. Weird.”

We didn’t think about it for a while after that. Occasionally, we’d smell smoke, though, like the next door neighbor was enjoying being in Colorado (despite lease clauses). Then, there was a revelation.

“Holy shit.”

“What?”

“Uhh… It’s not just a seam.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a door.”

“What the fuck?”

Sure enough, there was a second line running parallel to the first, about two feet over. Then we followed them up.

“Yeah. It’s a door. There’s frame here too, and look. There’s the lintel.”

“What the actual fuck?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it was a leftover from when the construction guys were building the apartment. A way between this one and the one next door without having to go back into the hall.”

“Then why would they frame it and then fill it in?”

My girlfriend even asked the leasing office about it. The agent who came to look at it had no clue it had ever been there. We pulled the bed away from the wall, and the lines ran all the way to the floor. It was unmistakably a door. Filled with drywall and painted, yes. But a door.

That was when we looked up at the ceiling and noticed the scratches in the popcorn ceiling. Gouges several inches long, spaced closely together, about a foot from the filled-in door. Another group of them a few feet away, nearer to the entrance to the bedroom. Almost like something had crawled across the ceiling from the door to the not-quite-door… Or been pulled…

 

 

 

Happy October, everyone!

 

 

 

 

“An Invitation”

Your gravest error
Was inviting me across
Your threshold that night.

“Fort”

My sister and I once built
A fort out of sticks and
Tumbleweeds, burrowing
In where they had blown
Against the row of pines.
We took snacks and water
And spent afternoons
Pretending to be explorers
Stranded on some distant
Island, though we had only
Once ever seen the ocean.

The following flash fiction piece was written for the latest Terrible Minds Writing Challenge, in which we were given several titles to choose from and write a story to fit that title. Here’s “Still Turnstiles at Station 6.”

 

“For the last fifty years, we’ve been the main entry point for immigrants. Station 6 has welcomed offworlders since the colonies first opened to the general population. However, with the completion of construction on a new series of landing zones via Phobos and Deimos, Station 6 will be transferring operations to these new lunar facilities, and begin shutting down. This shutdown will be gradual, taking place over the next solar cycle. We are proud to have been your Gateway to Mars.”

“How many people are losing their jobs because of this?”

“None. Every Station 6 employee is being offered transfer to operations on the lunar stations. Thanks to an incredible amount of cooperation from the colonial governors on both Phobos and Deimos, funding has been secured to ensure the employment of every single person here continues as long as they desire to keep doing their jobs.”

“What will become of Station 6, then?”

“We’ll begin the process of decommissioning her once the transition to lunar operations is complete. We expect that to take place over the next five to ten years. The oversight council has been working very hard to establish a full schedule. We are talking about taking multiple reactors offline, safely removing the fuel, disposing of it properly, and so on. It’s not something that can happen overnight. On the plus side, the process of decommissioning Station 6 will add an additional thousand jobs to the workforce within the next year. We’re very positive that the shift to the Phobos and Deimos stations will be a much-needed boost for Martian colonists.”

“And once the site is cleared?”

“We’ve been in talks to turn it into an orbiting museum. It would be an ideal site to showcase the history of humanity’s move from Earth. The early rovers from the old NASA operations have small museums near the locations where they ceased to function. It makes sense that Station 6 should hold the same place in our history. For now, though the lines here will slow, and the good folks on our staff will be here until the turnstiles are still.”

“Well, that certainly sounds like an ambitious plan, but I like the sound of it. We’ll be following this story as it develops. For Tharsis 7 News, I’m Ayana Cole.”

 

This one’s another entry for one of Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds Writing Challenges. We were given two lists of twenty words, picking one from each list to create a random title. After a day of brainstorming, the final line popped into my head. So, here you are. It’s a flash piece, really. Not even 500 words, but I like it. I hope you do too.

 

“Orchard After”

 

They met as children, wandering across the meadow that connected their parents’ farms. They became friends instantly, each thrilled to have the other to talk to, to share in the collective adventure that is youth. Rain or shine, they would meet. Every day during the summer, and every free moment during the school year, they were together. One would wait for the other at the old apple tree in the middle of the meadow.

Borrowing tools and parts from their parents, they built a tree house. It would shelter them from the rain and shade them from the sun more than the tree could alone. The apples fed them when they wished to remain away from home. They took great care to plant the seeds when they could, and in time, they sprouted.

They grew older, and closer together. High school brought them a series of new challenges. They each began work on the farm, learning the trades of their mothers and fathers. In between tasks in the fields, they tended the burgeoning orchard that was now growing Soon, the summer day arrived when they shared their first kiss, hidden from a thunderstorm inside their tree house.

Time passed, and their love grew stronger. Though they could no longer both fit inside the tree house, they could still spend a hot afternoon sleeping beside each other in the shade of the tree’s branches. School came to an end, but still they stayed on, neither willing to part for more than a few days at a time. As their parents grew older, they took over the farms together, consolidating and focusing on the apple orchard.

Years became decades, and the two grew old. They still made and sold apple pie and cider with apples that they grew, having sold the rest of their parents’ farmland, save for what had been the meadow. Children visiting the orchard would play in the tree house while the grownups shopped and sampled. In the quiet evenings, the lovers would meet again, beneath the tree where it had all began. They would sit and hold hands and talk about how quickly the world had gone by.

One winter day, it was time for them to say their final goodbyes to each other. They kissed one final time, pledged their love. The cold took them both, there under the branches of the ancient apple tree, fingers entwined as the roots below. They were buried there, as they had wished for years to lie together.

And as the snow came down, and the years passed, the lovers were forgotten, and all that remained was the orchard after.

 

 

 

 

This one’s for Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds Writing Challenge. Our instructions were to write a sci-fi story about a dragon, only not necessarily a mythical one. It’s a short piece, well under the 2,000 word limit, but it was something that came to mind immediately after reading the challenge prompt.

“The Dragon”

 

“Are we starting?”

“Yes ma’am. We’re recording right now. You can start wherever you like.”

“I was there that day. They said that there’d been nothing like it since the old calendar, since the bombings on Earth. I never saw footage of those, but I’ve heard statistics. It amaze me still to realize that we used to live in such numbers that the loss of a couple hundred would be considered relatively insignificant. That that could’ve been the better option. I don’t know what exactly this new weapon was. Just the name all of the news outlets on the colony gave it. The dragon.”

***

“Yes, she was the first one to call it that on the intrasystem media. I asked her about it afterward. She said it seemed like a good fit. Something so destructive that it couldn’t possibly be real. She was never the same after that day. Nightmares kept her from sleeping, and eventually she just… she couldn’t stop seeing them.”

***

“What do you remember most about that day?”

“The smell. I’ll never forget the smell. Melting metal, charred flesh. I can’t eat barbecue anymore. The masks could only filter out so much, and we didn’t have them for the first wave. And the heat. Even when we got the bunker gear, we couldn’t stay on site for too long. Dozens of folks were dropping just from the heat.”

“You were with the first responders?”

“We all were. There weren’t enough of us. We didn’t have adequate supplies, or enough people. How can you plan for a disaster on that sort of scale when there’s been nothing like it used for centuries?”

“Had you ever seen footage of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?”

“Once, when I was a kid. They told us that no one had ever done anything on that sort of a destructive scale since. People kept pointing to those two bombs as one of the worst things that humanity ever did to itself. I wish they’d been right, that we’d never come up with anything worse.”

“You said supplies were inadequate too. Would you like to elaborate?”

“Well, there was no way we’d ever have the rescue equipment or the medical supplies to treat burns of that intensity on that large of a site. No colony would. The governors would never allow the funding for recovery for a disaster that they couldn’t foresee, and half of them are too young to have learned about the bombings back on Earth. They’d dismiss them out of hand and say that we should be prepped for real emergencies. Loss of atmosphere, gravity failure. Things that you expect to happen on an orbiting colony. Not the heat, not a fire so sudden and massive that it burns through 85% of your oxygen supply in a matter of seconds. Not some lunatic trying to hurt or kill everyone. We were damn lucky we didn’t lose the whole colony.”

“But you kept trying, despite being understaffed and under-supplied?”

“We had to. 12 hour shifts and then some, to start. You know how critical the first hours are in a recovery effort. More people died, but we kept trying. We had to, damn it. We had to know that we were doing our best. It was the only way we could keep going.”

***

“I don’t think anyone could have predicted it. My understanding is that the work on the project was so compartmentalized that no one team could’ve put together a solid idea of the whole. Different groups of engineers and scientists working on components on different planets and colonies. No communications other than what was absolutely necessary would’ve been allowed. Tell one team they’re working on one project under one code name. Take their work and have an unaffiliated group start working on it from there under a different code name. Never let the right hand know what the left is doing, you know.”

“Hence why there couldn’t be a contingency in place.”

“Exactly. No one knew what The Dragon was capable of. Just that it was a dangerous weapon.”

“And someone set it off in the middle of a civilian population center.”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe the attack itself was premeditated?”

“We’re done here.”

***

“How many people died?”

“In the initial burst? Estimates say over half a million. The Dragon’s Breath, the mishmash of various ailments people caught in the aftermath is still killing people. Nearly double that.”

“Do you honestly believe it was an accident that the weapon was discharged on the colony?”

“I’d like to believe that, but the investigation is ongoing.”

“Thank you for your time.”

“When the Sea Meets the Sky”

“I’ll find you again,” she whispered in
My ear before we parted. “I’ll find you
When the sea meets the sky.”

Years passed, and I searched high and
Low, travelling the world over, seeking
Where the sea meets the sky.

Never in that time did I ever meet any
Who loved me as she did, who made
My heart soar to meet the sky.

On the day I knew I was to die, I sat
Alone and waited, certain I would
Hear her voice under the grey sky.

And as the rain began to fall, she
Whispered once again. “My love,
Did you not see how sea meets sky?”

I was sitting in bed, just getting ready to go to sleep when my girlfriend got up from her computer, said she’d be right back, and went out into the hallway. A couple minutes later, she walked back in and whispered that she had to show me something, so I pulled my boxers back on, unable to shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Still, I took her hand and she led me into the dark hall, pulling me into the bathroom. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I saw her body there on the bathroom floor.

“The Immortal Question”

What would you do with immortality?
If you knew that you would never die?
Would you travel the world, see what
Wonders others only read about?
Follow the paths of your favorite
Writers, and eat at the same little Paris
Cafés that once hosted Hemingway?

Would time lose its meaning to you
If you found that you could never die?
Would the days and weeks and months
Years centuries blend together and
Cease to have an impact short of
Reminding you who you had loved and
Lost along that long way?

Who would you bring close to you,
Knowing you’d have to watch them die?
Would you choose lovers with caution,
Or give yourself over to the throes
Of passion over and over again? Would
You even try to remember them
After they were gone from your side?

What would you choose to be
If you believed that you would never die?
Would you walk the narrow way and
Strive to find a balance between evil
And good? Or would you hurl yourself
Headlong, choosing one side or
The other to prove that neither exist?

 

“Memorial”

I don’t know where they came up with the idea to commission that damn statue. It doesn’t even look like me. The hair’s all wrong. I never wore it in a braid in those days. It wasn’t even long enough.

I don’t think it’s necessary. I hate the idea of memorializing something that… violent, I guess. It’s kind of the antithesis (did I pronounce that right?) of everything we stood for.

Yeah, I suppose. At least he looks good. The sculptor nailed his eyes. I would’ve never thought they’d be able to capture the intensity. He was all fire and thunder, even then.

Did we? Some people would say that any action like the one we took is treason. Or was. It never really felt clear to me that we were doing the right thing. It wasn’t about right or wrong. It was about what needed to be done.

No, I don’t plan to stick around. Public events aren’t my thing. They never were. They were his. He was always the social one. It’s funny. He claimed he hated it, but he was always out there, smiling for the worlds to see. Always said that he could do it because he knew I was there with him, and now here I am, and he’s…

I’m okay. I just… I just need a minute.

No, I appreciate you. It’s rare for someone in your line of work to speak so frankly to me. I can’t tell you how I’ve responded to journalists asking about him, or me, or us, or what have you. Just something about you. Reminded me of him, I suppose. It made it easy to talk to you. So thank you. I wish you the best of luck.

You too. I hope things work out in your favor.